Doncaster Rovers again show they are so close yet so very far away as they fall to defeat at Accrington Stanley

So close but so, so far away - it is the story of where Doncaster Rovers currently are at.

Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 11:59 pm
Ben Close has been the shining light so far for Rovers this season

Close in that there are promising signs in big areas and also very little doubt over where the shortcomings are.

Far away in that there are very few signs of the issues being rectified any time soon.

The trip to Accrington Stanley was never going to deliver anything like the sort of control and cohesion that Rovers demonstrated so well at Sheffield Wednesday four days prior.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Accrington simply do not allow such occurrences on their own soil, with a tenacious side denying time and space across the pitch.

But Rovers did enjoy good periods where they had the better of possession, took the sting out of the hosts’ approach and played the better passes.

All that mattered very little however as their play consistently broke down or amounted to nothing in the final third.

The single biggest issue as to why Rovers have lost all three of their matches in League One so far is the complete lack of attacking threat.

So when Pontus Dahlberg inexplicably dropped Joe Pritchard’s speculative effort into his own goal after just three minutes, Rovers were always going to have a mountain to climb.

It looked set to be a long night as Accrington swarmed all over Rovers in the aftermath of the goal, with the visitors looking rattled and panicky, which only provided encouragement to the hosts.

To their credit, Rovers did settle things down, slowed the tempo of the game and got on the front foot - driven on in the main by the excellent Ben Close who consistently powered out of midfield.

Ahead of him there simply was not the quality or directness that Rovers are crying out for.

Without the wingers sidelined through injury, there is no penetrative pace. Nor is there the single mindedness in individuals to come inside off the flanks and charge towards goal.

Such attributes would make a huge difference to this side, and ensure the central striker was not as isolated as Tiago Cukur has found himself.

Battling against an organised, physical and wily opposition such as Accrington exposed the lack of experience of both Cukur and Aidan Barlow, both of whom are making their first steps in senior football.

Cukur had the physicality to battle with the towering Stanley defence but lacked the street smarts - as demonstrated by his indignation whenever his marker got away with a sneaky foul.

Barlow looked lost in the chaos that Accrington created and he was devoid of real influence with the game racing by him much too quickly.

These are two players on which a tremendous amount of pressure and responsibility has been placed.

The absence of more experienced options is forcing them to grow up fast but their development is not nearly swift enough to help Rovers out of their current predicament - nor should it be expected to be.

But Rovers need attacking inspiration from somewhere if they are to avoid a continuation of the horrible run of results with which they have opened the season.

Richie Wellens reluctantly switched his system in the second half to a 3-5-2 which matched up with Accrington’s.

And it was after that when Rovers truly looked like grabbing an equaliser.

Cameron John provided some sublime diagonal balls out from the back, finding the likes of Kyle Knoyle and Omar Bogle who turned the ball inside - though their continued to be little in the way of threat inside the box.

Wellens did not want to change the system. He did not want to go direct. He has said in the past a switch to 3-5-2 would allow him to put his most experienced players on the pitch together.

But he does not believe in it. The Rovers boss remains confident that he and his team are heading in the right direction as they stick to his principles as much as possible.

Should the run of results continue, it will be interesting to see how much his resolve on that front is tested.

It is a balance of patience and the desire for positive results. Of being so close and so far away.


In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.